Frequently asked questions Ngā Pātai e Kaha Whiua Nei

Election Programmes

The BSA’s role is to address complaints about the content of ‘election programmes’ broadcast on TV or radio, and to determine whether they breach the Election Programmes Code (section 8(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989). These complaints are made directly to the BSA. The BSA will endeavour to deal with election programme complaints as quickly as possible, after giving the parties involved an opportunity to comment.

Only general elections or by-elections for members of the House of Representatives are covered. Local body elections are not covered by this Code.

The BSA also considers complaints about the content of other programmes which may relate to the election (eg, broadcast news and current affairs coverage, satire and comment), under the Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV Codes. These complaints must first be made to the broadcaster, and then can be referred to the BSA if the complainant is dissatisfied with the response.

The BSA does not consider complaints about compliance with requirements such as promoter statements, written authorisation, allocation of funding, timing of broadcasting, or expense limits. These are dealt with by the Electoral Commission. The Advertising Standards Authority and NZ Media Council also deal with complaints about election advertising and coverage.

For more information about the respective roles of these agencies and who you should send your concerns or a complaint to, see our Who does what? Elections guide.

Section 69(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 defines an election programme as a programme that is broadcast on TV or radio during an ‘election period’ and:

  • encourages or persuades, or appears to encourage or persuade voters to vote, or not to vote, for a
    political party or the election of a constituency candidate; or
  • advocates support for, or opposes, a constituency candidate or political party; or
  • notifies meetings held or to be held in connection with an election.

Usually, election programmes will appear as short promotional / campaign clips broadcast on TV or on radio, for political parties or constituency candidates.

The Court of Appeal has held that election programmes are only those that are broadcast for political parties or candidates – and not programmes initiated by broadcasters or other third parties.

This means that other programmes about election matters that are broadcast on TV and radio, including news, comment or current affairs in relation to an election, are not ‘election programmes’ and are not subject to the Election Programmes Code. For example, if a comedy programme aired on television in the lead-up to the election included a skit featuring or parodying a particular party and candidate, it would not be considered an election programme. If a political documentary aired on television shortly before the election, which commented on a party’s track record on a contestable policy issue, this also would not be considered an election programme.

These programmes must however comply with the relevant broadcasting standards for Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV.

If the item is a third party-initiated ‘election advertisement’, it may be subject to the requirements under the Electoral Act (for which the Electoral Commission has responsibility), and any complaints about the content of such an advertisement may be made to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Complaints about the content of TV or radio programmes that relate to the election, that are not election programmes or election advertisements, can be considered by the broadcaster under the relevant broadcasting code of practice (Radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV), and then referred to the BSA if the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome.

Election programmes may only be broadcast during the ‘election period’. It is an offence to broadcast an election programme for a party or candidate outside of this period. Contact the Electoral Commission for more information about this.

It depends on what your complaint is about:

  • The content of an election programme broadcast on TV or radio, during the general election period - The BSA
  • The content of an election advertisement published in any other media, including print, online, pamphlets, billboards - the Advertising Standards Authority
  • The content of a programme discussing election matters, broadcast on TV or radio (or on-demand, provided it was also broadcast on TV or radio) - the broadcaster (within 20 working days)
  • A discussion of election matters in the editorial content (as distinct from advertising) in NZ Media Council members’ publications - the NZ Media Council
  • The requirements relating to election programmes (under the Broadcasting Act), or election advertisements (under the Electoral Act) - The Electoral Commission

If we receive a complaint that ought to be considered by the Electoral Commission, the Media Council or the Advertising Standards Authority, we will forward your complaint to the correct agency, and advise you where it has been sent.

The BSA recognises that in an election period it is important for election programme complaints to be determined quickly.  We adopt a fast track process. The process used in 2020 is available here.

The BSA, Electoral Commission, Advertising Standards Authority and NZ Media Council all have a role to play in dealing with complaints about election material. Guidance on who to complain to is in the table in our Quick Guide here.